In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it’s become clear that non-disclosure agreements are a powerful silencing tool. The binding legal contracts allowed abusers like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, and Bill O’Reilly to prevent their victims from coming forward.
But some women have opted to break their contracts. The latest such case is that of Kathryn Mayorga, a woman who says she was inspired by #MeToo to come forward and accuse Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo of raping her in 2009.
On Oct. 1, at Mayorga’s request, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reopened an investigation into a report she filed on June 13, 2009, in which she stated she was sexually assaulted in a hotel. At the time, she declined to name her abuser. But this week, in a wide-ranging interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, Mayorga alleged that Ronaldo was the man who assaulted her. (He categorically denied the allegation in a video and in a strongly-worded statement from his lawyers.)
Mayorga told Der Spiegel that Ronaldo paid her $375,000 to settle her claims and sign an NDA. Now her lawyer, Leslie Mark Stovall, is filing a civil complaint to void the NDA. “Kathryn was not competent to enter into the agreement because of the psychological injury she sustained from the sexual assault,” he told Der Spiegel.
Mayorga’s decision highlights the burden that NDAs place on victims of sexual abuse: Women who violate these agreements could face lawsuits and hefty fines, depending on the details of the contract.
That said, some observers argue that NDAs allow victims to confidentially report their abuse without divulging the details of their claim. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, attorneys Stanley Bernstein and Stephanie Beige explain, “Confidentiality is a critical tool that protects victims as well as the wrongly accused.”
But others argue that NDAs should be thrown out altogether in cases of sexual harassment and assault. In June, Democratic senator Kamala Harris and Republican senator Lisa Murkowski introduced the EMPOWER Act, a bill that would bar employers from requiring workers to sign nondisclosure and non-disparagement agreements related to workplace harassment. While the bill has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, analysts say it lacks the support from House and Senate leaders necessary to be made into law.
Writing in The Daily Beast, Anna Lind-Guzik argued that judges should ”void confidentiality agreements where disclosure is in the public interest.” She says that’s already common practice in “matters of environmental safety, public health, and product safety.” But the difference in these cases, she believes, lies in the judicial system’s lack of respect for claims of sexual assault. “Judges could use the same reasoning to protect victims who blow the whistle on sexual predators, but they don’t. The message is clear: Women’s safety is less valuable than a powerful man’s reputation.”